> "How little can the rich man know > Of what the poor man feels, > When Want, like some dark demon foe, > Nearer and nearer steals!
> "HE never tramp'd the weary round, > A stroke of work to gain, > And sicken'd at the dreaded sound > Which tells he seeks in vain.
> "Foot-sore, heart-sore, HE never came > Back through the winter's wind, > To a dank cellar, there no flame, > No light, no food, to find.
> "HE never saw his darlings lie > Shivering, the flags their bed > HE never heard that maddening cry, > 'Daddy, a bit of bread!'"
> —MANCHESTER SONG.
John Barton was not far wrong in his idea that the Messrs. Carson would not b_ver-much grieved for the consequences of the fire in their mill. They wer_ell insured; the machinery lacked the improvements of late years, and worke_ut poorly in comparison with that which might now be procured. Above all, trade was very slack; cottons could find no market, and goods lay packed an_iled in many a warehouse. The mills were merely worked to keep the machinery, human and metal, in some kind of order and readiness for better times. So thi_as an excellent opportunity, Messrs. Carson thought, for refitting thei_actory with first-rate improvements, for which the insurance money woul_mply pay. They were in no hurry about the business, however. The weekly drai_f wages given for labour, useless in the present state of the market, wa_topped. The partners had more leisure than they had known for years; an_romised wives and daughters all manner of pleasant excursions, as soon as th_eather should become more genial. It was a pleasant thing to be able t_ounge over breakfast with a review or newspaper in hand; to have time fo_ecoming acquainted with agreeable and accomplished daughters, on whos_ducation no money had been spared, but whose fathers, shut up during a lon_ay with calicoes and accounts, had so seldom had leisure to enjoy thei_aughters' talents. There were happy family evenings, now that the men o_usiness had time for domestic enjoyments. There is another side to th_icture. There were homes over which Carsons' fire threw a deep, terribl_loom; the homes of those who would fain work, and no man gave unto them—th_omes of those to whom leisure was a curse. There, the family music was hungr_ails, when week after week passed by, and there was no work to be had, an_onsequently no wages to pay for the bread the children cried aloud for i_heir young impatience of suffering. There was no breakfast to lounge over; their lounge was taken in bed, to try and keep warmth in them that bitte_arch weather, and, by being quiet, to deaden the gnawing wolf within. Many _enny that would have gone little way enough in oatmeal or potatoes, bough_pium to still the hungry little ones, and make them forget their uneasines_n heavy troubled sleep. It was mother's mercy. The evil and the good of ou_ature came out strongly then. There were desperate fathers; there wer_itter-tongued mothers (O God! what wonder!); there were reckless children; the very closest bonds of nature were snapt in that time of trial an_istress. There was Faith such as the rich can never imagine on earth; ther_as "Love strong as death"; and self-denial, among rude, coarse men, akin t_hat of Sir Philip Sidney's most glorious deed. The vices of the poo_ometimes astound us HERE; but when the secrets of all hearts shall be mad_nown, their virtues will astound us in far greater degree. Of this I a_ertain.
As the cold, bleak spring came on (spring, in name alone), and consequently a_rade continued dead, other mills shortened hours, turned off hands, an_inally stopped work altogether.
Barton worked short hours. Wilson, of course, being a hand in Carsons'
factory, had no work at all. But his son, working at an engineer's, and _teady man, obtained wages enough to maintain all the family in a careful way.
Still it preyed on Wilson's mind to be so long indebted to his son. He was ou_f spirits, and depressed. Barton was morose, and soured towards mankind as _ody, and the rich in particular. One evening, when the clear light at si_'clock contrasted strangely with the Christmas cold, and when the bitter win_iped down every entry, and through every cranny, Barton sat brooding over hi_tinted fire, and listening for Mary's step, in unacknowledged trust that he_resence would cheer him. The door was opened, and Wilson came breathless in.
"You've not got a bit o' money by you, Barton?" asked he.
"Not I; who has now, I'd like to know. Whatten you want it for?"
"I donnot[](footnotes.xml#footnote_12) want it for mysel', tho' we've non_o spare. But don ye know Ben Davenport as worked at Carsons? He's down wi'
the fever, and ne'er a stick o' fire nor _owd[](footnotes.xml#footnote_13) potato in the house."
"I han got no money, I tell ye," said Barton. Wilson looked disappointed.
Barton tried not to be interested, but he could not help it in spite of hi_ruffness. He rose, and went to the cupboard (his wife's pride long ago).
There lay the remains of his dinner, hastily put by ready for supper. Bread, and a slice of cold fat boiled bacon. He wrapped them in his handkerchief, pu_hem in the crown of his hat, and said, "Come, let us be going."
"Going—art thou going to work this time o' day?"
"No, stupid, to be sure not. Going to see the chap thou spoke on." So they pu_n their hats and set out. On the way Wilson said Davenport was a good fellow, though too much of the Methodee; that his children were too young to work, bu_ot too young to be cold and hungry; that they had sunk lower and lower, an_awned thing after thing, and that they now lived in a cellar in Berry Street, off Store Street. Barton growled inarticulate words of no benevolent import t_ large class of mankind, and so they went along till they arrived in Berr_treet. It was unpaved: and down the middle a gutter forced its way, every no_nd then forming pools in the holes with which the street abounded. Never wa_he old Edinburgh cry of Gardez l'eau! more necessary than in this street. A_hey passed, women from their doors tossed household slops of EVER_escription into the gutter; they ran into the next pool, which overflowed an_tagnated. Heaps of ashes were the stepping-stones, on which the passer-by, who cared in the least for cleanliness, took care not to put his foot. Ou_riends were not dainty, but even they picked their way, till they got to som_teps leading down to a small area, where a person standing would have hi_ead about one foot below the level of the street, and might at the same time, without the least motion of his body, touch the window of the cellar and th_amp muddy wall right opposite. You went down one step even from the foul are_nto the cellar in which a family of human beings lived. It was very dar_nside. The window-panes, many of them, were broken and stuffed with rags, which was reason enough for the dusky light that pervaded the place even a_idday. After the account I have given of the state of the street, no one ca_e surprised that on going into the cellar inhabited by Davenport, the smel_as so foetid as almost to knock the two men down. Quickly recoverin_hemselves, as those inured to such things do, they began to penetrate th_hick darkness of the place, and to see three or four little children rollin_n the damp, nay wet brick floor, through which the stagnant, filthy moistur_f the street oozed up; the fire-place was empty and black; the wife sat o_er husband's lair, and cried in the dark loneliness.
"See, missis, I'm back again.—Hold your noise, children, and don'_ither[](footnotes.xml#footnote_14) your mammy for bread; here's a chap a_as got some for you."
In that dim light, which was darkness to strangers, they clustered roun_arton, and tore from him the food he had brought with him. It was a larg_unch of bread, but it vanished in an instant.
"We mun do summut for 'em," said he to Wilson. "Yo stop here, and I'll be back in half-an-hour."
So he strode, and ran, and hurried home. He emptied into the ever-usefu_ocket-handkerchief the little meal remaining in the mug. Mary would have he_ea at Miss Simmonds'; her food for the day was safe. Then he went upstair_or his better coat, and his one, gay red-and-yellow silk pocket- handkerchief—his jewels, his plate, his valuables, these were. He went to th_awn-shop; he pawned them for five shillings; he stopped not, nor stayed, til_e was once more in London Road, within five minutes' walk of Berr_treet—then he loitered in his gait, in order to discover the shops he wanted.
He bought meat, and a loaf of bread, candles, chips, and from a little retai_ard he purchased a couple of hundredweights of coal. Some money stil_emained—all destined for them, but he did not yet know how best to spend it.
Food, light, and warmth, he had instantly seen were necessary; for luxuries h_ould wait. Wilson's eyes filled with tears when he saw Barton enter with hi_urchases. He understood it all, and longed to be once more in work that h_ight help in some of these material ways, without feeling that he was usin_is son's money. But though "silver and gold he had none," he gave heart- service and love—works of far more value. Nor was John Barton behind in these.
"The fever" was (as it usually is in Manchester) of a low, putrid, typhoi_ind; brought on by miserable living, filthy neighbourhood, and grea_epression of mind and body. It is virulent, malignant, and highly infectious.
But the poor are fatalists with regard to infection! and well for them it i_o, for in their crowded dwellings no invalid can be isolated. Wilson aske_arton if he thought he should catch it, and was laughed at for his idea.
The two men, rough, tender nurses as they were, lighted the fire, which smoke_nd puffed into the room as if it did not know the way up the damp, unuse_himney. The very smoke seemed purifying and healthy in the thick clammy air.
The children clamoured again for bread; but this time Barton took a piec_irst to the poor, helpless, hopeless woman, who still sat by the side of he_usband, listening to his anxious miserable mutterings. She took the bread, when it was put into her hand, and broke a bit, but could not eat. She wa_ast hunger. She fell down on the floor with a heavy unresisting bang. The me_ooked puzzled. "She's wellnigh clemmed," said Barton. "Folk do say on_ustn't give clemmed people much to eat; but, bless us, she'll eat nought."
"I'll tell yo what I'll do," said Wilson. "I'll take these two big lads, a_oes nought but fight, home to my missis for tonight, and I'll get a jug o'
tea. Them women always does best with tea, and such-like slop."
So Barton was now left alone with a little child, crying (when it had don_ating) for mammy; with a fainting, dead-like woman; and with the sick man, whose mutterings were rising up to screams and shrieks of agonised anxiety. H_arried the woman to the fire, and chafed her hands. He looked around fo_omething to raise her head. There was literally nothing but some loos_ricks. However, those he got; and taking off his coat he covered them with i_s well as he could. He pulled her feet to the fire, which now began to emi_ome faint heat. He looked round for water, but the poor woman had been to_eak to drag herself out to the distant pump, and water there was none. H_natched the child, and ran up the area-steps to the room above, and borrowe_heir only saucepan with some water in it. Then he began, with the usefu_kill of a working-man, to make some gruel; and when it was hastily made, h_eized a battered iron table-spoon (kept when many other little things ha_een sold in a lot, in order to feed baby), and with it he forced one or tw_rops between her clenched teeth. The mouth opened mechanically to receiv_ore, and gradually she revived. She sat up and looked round; and recollectin_ll, fell down again in weak and passive despair. Her little child crawled t_er, and wiped with its fingers the thick-coming tears which she now ha_trength to weep. It was now high time to attend to the man. He lay on straw, so damp and mouldy, no dog would have chosen it in preference to flags; ove_t was a piece of sacking, coming next to his worn skeleton of a body; abov_im was mustered every article of clothing that could be spared by mother o_hildren this bitter weather; and in addition to his own, these might hav_iven as much warmth as one blanket, could they have been kept on him; but a_e restlessly tossed to and fro, they fell off and left him shivering in spit_f the burning heat of his skin. Every now and then he started up in his nake_adness, looking like the prophet of woe in the fearful plague-picture; but h_oon fell again in exhaustion, and Barton found he must be closely watched, lest in these falls he should injure himself against the hard brick floor. H_as thankful when Wilson re-appeared, carrying in both hands a jug of steamin_ea, intended for the poor wife; but when the delirious husband saw drink, h_natched at it with animal instinct, with a selfishness he had never shown i_ealth.
Then the two men consulted together. It seemed decided, without a word bein_poken on the subject, that both should spend the night with the forlor_ouple; that was settled. But could no doctor be had? In all probability, no; the next day an Infirmary order must be begged, but meanwhile the only medica_dvice they could have must be from a druggist's. So Barton (being the moneye_an) set out to find a shop in London Road.
It is a pretty sight to walk through a street with lighted shops; the gas i_o brilliant, the display of goods so much more vividly shown than by day, an_f all shops a druggist's looks the most like the tales of our childhood, fro_laddin's garden of enchanted fruits to the charming Rosamond with her purpl_ar. No such associations had Barton; yet he felt the contrast between th_ell-filled, well-lighted shops and the dim gloomy cellar, and it made hi_oody that such contrasts should exist. They are the mysterious problem o_ife to more than him. He wondered if any in all the hurrying crowd had com_rom such a house of mourning. He thought they all looked joyous, and he wa_ngry with them. But he could not, you cannot, read the lot of those who dail_ass you by in the street. How do you know the wild romances of their lives; the trials, the temptations they are even now enduring, resisting, sinkin_nder? You may be elbowed one instant by the girl desperate in he_bandonment, laughing in mad merriment with her outward gesture, while he_oul is longing for the rest of the dead, and bringing itself to think of th_old flowing river as the only mercy of God remaining to her here. You ma_ass the criminal, meditating crimes at which you will to-morrow shudder wit_orror as you read them. You may push against one, humble and unnoticed, th_ast upon earth, who in heaven will for ever be in the immediate light o_od's countenance. Errands of mercy—errands of sin—did you ever think wher_ll the thousands of people you daily meet are bound? Barton's was an erran_f mercy; but the thoughts of his heart were touched by sin, by bitter hatre_f the happy, whom he, for the time, confounded with the selfish.
He reached a druggist's shop, and entered. The druggist (whose smooth manner_eemed to have been salved over with his own spermaceti) listened attentivel_o Barton's description of Davenport's illness; concluded it was typhus fever, very prevalent in that neighbourhood; and proceeded to make up a bottle o_edicine, sweet spirits of nitre, or some such innocent potion, very good fo_light colds, but utterly powerless to stop, for an instant, the raging feve_f the poor man it was intended to relieve. He recommended the same cours_hey had previously determined to adopt, applying the next morning for a_nfirmary order; and Barton left the shop with comfortable faith in the physi_iven him; for men of his class, if they believe in physic at all, believ_hat every description is equally efficacious.
Meanwhile, Wilson had done what he could at Davenport's home. He had soothed, and covered the man many a time; he had fed and hushed the little child, an_poken tenderly to the woman, who lay still in her weakness and her weariness.
He had opened a door, but only for an instant; it led into a back cellar, wit_ grating instead of a window, down which dropped the moisture from pigsties, and worse abominations. It was not paved; the floor was one mass of ba_melling mud. It had never been used, for there was not an article o_urniture in it; nor could a human being, much less a pig, have lived ther_any days. Yet the "back apartment" made a difference in the rent. Th_avenports paid threepence more for having two rooms. When he turned roun_gain, he saw the woman suckling the child from her dry, withered breast.
"Surely the lad is weaned!" exclaimed he, in surprise. "Why, how old is he?"
"Going on two year," she faintly answered. "But, oh! it keeps him quiet whe_'ve nought else to gi' him, and he'll get a bit of sleep lying there, if he'_etten nought beside. We han done our best to gi' th_hilder[](footnotes.xml#footnote_15) food, howe'er we pinch ourselves."
"Han[](footnotes.xml#footnote_16) ye had no money fra' th' town?"
"No; my master is Buckinghamshire born; and he's feared the town would sen_im back to his parish, if he went to th' board; so we've just borne on i_ope o' better times. But I think they'll never come in my day," and the poo_oman began her weak high-pitched cry again.
"Here, sup[](footnotes.xml#footnote_17) this drop o' gruel, and then tr_nd get a bit o' sleep.
John and I will watch by your master to-night."
"God's blessing be on you."
She finished the gruel, and fell into a deep sleep. Wilson covered her wit_is coat as well as he could, and tried to move lightly, for fear o_isturbing her; but there need have been no such dread, for her sleep wa_rofound and heavy with exhaustion. Once only she roused to pull the coa_ound her little child.
And now Wilson's care, and Barton's to boot, was wanted to restrain the wil_ad agony of the fevered man. He started up, he yelled, he seemed infuriate_y overwhelming anxiety. He cursed and swore, which surprised Wilson, who kne_is piety in health, and who did not know the unbridled tongue of delirium. A_ength he seemed exhausted, and fell asleep; and Barton and Wilson drew nea_he fire, and talked together in whispers. They sat on the floor, for chair_here were none; the sole table was an old tub turned upside down. They pu_ut the candle and conversed by the flickering firelight.
"Han yo known this chap long?" asked Barton.
"Better nor three year. He's worked wi' Carsons that long, and were always _teady, civil-spoken fellow, though, as I said afore, somewhat of a Methodee.
I wish I'd getten a letter he'd sent his missis, a week or two agone, when h_ere on tramp for work. It did my heart good to read it; for, yo see, I were _it grumbling mysel; it seemed hard to be sponging on Jem, and taking a' hi_lesh-meat money to buy bread for me and them as I ought to be keeping. But y_now, though I can earn nought, I mun eat summut. Well, as I telled ye, I wer_rumbling, when she" (indicating the sleeping woman by a nod) "brought m_en's letter, for she could na' read hersel. It were as good as Bible-words; ne'er a word o' repining; a' about God being our Father, and that we mun bea_atiently whate'er He sends."
"Don ye think He's th' masters' Father, too? I'd be loth to have 'em fo_rothers."
"Eh, John! donna talk so; sure there's many and many a master as good o_etter nor us."
"If you think so, tell me this. How comes it they're rich, and we're poor? I'_ike to know that. Han they done as they'd be done by for us?"
But Wilson was no arguer; no speechifier, as he would have called it. S_arton, seeing he was likely to have it his own way, went on.
"You'll say (at least many a one does), they'n[](footnotes.xml#footnote_18) getten capital an' we'n getten none. _ay, our labour's our capital, and we ought to draw interest on that. They ge_nterest on their capital somehow a' this time, while ourn is lying idle, els_ow could they all live as they do? Besides, there's many on 'em has ha_ought to begin wi'; there's Carsons, and Duncombes, and Mengies, and man_nother, as comed into Manchester with clothes to their back, and that wer_ll, and now they're worth their tens of thousands, a' getten out of ou_abour; why, the very land as fetched but sixty pound twenty year agone is no_orth six hundred, and that, too, is owing to our labour; but look at yo, an_ee me, and poor Davenport yonder; whatten better are we? They'n screwed u_own to the lowest peg, in order to make their great big fortunes, and buil_heir great big houses, and we, why we're just clemming, many and many of us.
Can you say there's nought wrong in this?"
"Well, Barton, I'll not gainsay ye. But Mr. Carson spoke to me after th' fire, and says he, 'I shall ha' to retrench, and be very careful in my expenditur_uring these bad times, I assure ye'; so yo see th' masters suffer too."
"Han they ever seen a child o' their'n die for want o' food?" asked Barton, in a low deep voice.
"I donnot mean," continued he, "to say as I'm so badly off. I'd scorn to spea_or mysel; but when I see such men as Davenport there dying away, for ver_lemming, I cannot stand it. I've but gotten Mary, and she keeps hersel_retty much. I think we'll ha' to give up housekeeping; but that I donno_ind."
And in this kind of talk the night, the long heavy night of watching, wor_way. As far as they could judge, Davenport continued in the same state, although the symptoms varied occasionally. The wife slept on, only roused b_he cry of her child now and then, which seemed to have power over her, whe_ar louder noises failed to disturb her. The watchers agreed, that as soon a_t was likely Mr. Carson would be up and visible, Wilson should go to hi_ouse, and beg for an Infirmary order. At length the grey dawn penetrated eve_nto the dark cellar. Davenport slept, and Barton was to remain there unti_ilson's return; so, stepping out into the fresh air, brisk and reviving, eve_n that street of abominations, Wilson took his way to Mr. Carson's.
Wilson had about two miles to walk before he reached Mr. Carson's house, whic_as almost in the country. The streets were not yet bustling and busy. Th_hopmen were lazily taking down the shutters, although it was near eigh_'clock; for the day was long enough for the purchases people made in tha_uarter of the town, while trade was so flat. One or two miserable-lookin_omen were setting off on their day's begging expedition. But there were fe_eople abroad. Mr. Carson's was a good house, and furnished with disregard t_xpense. But, in addition to lavish expenditure, there was much taste shown, and many articles chosen for their beauty and elegance adorned his rooms. A_ilson passed a window which a housemaid had thrown open, he saw pictures an_ilding, at which he was tempted to stop and look; but then he thought i_ould not be respectful. So he hastened on to the kitchen door. The servant_eemed very busy with preparations for breakfast; but good-naturedly, thoug_astily, told him to step in, and they could soon let Mr. Carson know he wa_here. So he was ushered into a kitchen hung round with glittering tins, wher_ roaring fire burnt merrily, and where numbers of utensils hung round, a_hose nature and use Wilson amused himself by guessing. Meanwhile, th_ervants bustled to and fro; an outdoor manservant came in for orders, and sa_own near Wilson. The cook broiled steaks, and the kitchen-maid toasted bread, and boiled eggs.
The coffee steamed upon the fire, and altogether the odours were so mixed an_ppetising, that Wilson began to yearn for food to break his fast, which ha_asted since dinner the day before. If the servants had known this, they woul_ave willingly given him meat and bread in abundance; but they were like th_est of us, and not feeling hunger themselves, forgot it was possible anothe_ight. So Wilson's craving turned to sickness, while they chatted on, makin_he kitchen's free and keen remarks upon the parlour.
"How late you were last night, Thomas!"
"Yes, I was right weary of waiting; they told me to be at the rooms by twelve; and there I was. But it was two o'clock before they called me."
"And did you wait all that time in the street?" asked the housemaid, who ha_one her work for the present, and come into the kitchen for a bit of gossip.
"My eye as like! you don't think I'm such a fool as to catch my death of cold, and let the horses catch their death too, as we should ha' done if we'_topped there. No! I put th' horses up in th' stables at th' Spread Eagle, an_ent mysel, and got a glass or two by th' fire. They're driving a good custom, them, wi' coachmen. There were five on us, and we'd many a quart o' ale, an_in wi' it, to keep out th' cold."
"Mercy on us, Thomas; you'll get a drunkard at last!"
"If I do, I know whose blame it will be. It will be missis's, and not mine.
Flesh and blood can't sit to be starved to death on a coach-box, waiting fo_olks as don't know their own mind."
A servant, semi-upper-housemaid, semi-lady's-maid, now came down with order_rom her mistress.
"Thomas, you must ride to the fishmongers, and say missis can't give abov_alf-a-crown a pound for salmon for Tuesday; she's grumbling because trade'_o bad. And she'll want the carriage at three to go to the lecture, Thomas; a_he Royal Execution, you know."
"Ay, ay, I know."
"And you'd better all of you mind your P's and Q's, for she's very black thi_orning. She's got a bad headache."
"It's a pity Miss Jenkins is not here to match her. Lord! how she and missi_id quarrel which had got the worst headaches; it was that Miss Jenkins lef_or. She would not give up having bad headaches, and missis could not abid_nyone to have 'em but herself."
"Missis will have her breakfast upstairs, cook, and the cold partridge as wa_eft yesterday, and put plenty of cream in her coffee, and she thinks there'_ roll left, and she would like it well buttered."
So saying, the maid left the kitchen to be ready to attend to the youn_adies' bell when they chose to ring, after their late assembly the nigh_efore. In the luxurious library, at the well-spread breakfast-table, sat th_wo Mr. Carsons, father and son. Both were reading—the father a newspaper, th_on a review— while they lazily enjoyed their nicely prepared food. The fathe_as a prepossessing-looking old man; perhaps self-indulgent you might guess.
The son was strikingly handsome, and knew it. His dress was neat and wel_ppointed, and his manners far more gentlemanly than his father's. He was th_nly son, and his sisters were proud of him; his father and mother were prou_f him: he could not set up his judgment against theirs; he was proud o_imself.
The door opened and in bounded Amy, the sweet youngest daughter of the house, a lovely girl of sixteen, fresh and glowing, and bright as a rosebud. She wa_oo young to go to assemblies, at which her father rejoiced, for he had littl_my with her pretty jokes, and her bird-like songs, and her playful caresse_ll the evening to amuse him in his loneliness; and she was not too much tire_ike Sophy and Helen, to give him her sweet company at breakfast the nex_orning.
He submitted willingly while she blinded him with her hands, and kissed hi_ough red face all over. She took his newspaper away after a little pretende_esistance, and would not allow her brother Harry to go on with his review.
"I'm the only lady this morning, papa, so you know you must make a great dea_f me."
"My darling, I think you have your own way always, whether you're the onl_ady or not."
"Yes, papa, you're pretty good and obedient, I must say that; but I'm sorry t_ay Harry is very naughty, and does not do what I tell him; do you, Harry?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean to accuse me of, Amy; I expected prais_nd not blame; for did not I get you that eau de Portugal from town, that yo_ould not meet with at Hughes', you little ungrateful puss?"
"Did you? Oh, sweet Harry; you're as sweet as eau de Portugal yourself; you'r_lmost as good as papa; but still you know you did go and forget to as_igland for that rose, that new rose they say he has got."
"No, Amy, I did not forget. I asked him, and he has got the Rose, san_eproche: but do you know, little Miss Extravagance, a very small one i_alf-a-guinea?"
"Oh, I don't mind. Papa will give it me, won't you, dear father? He knows hi_ittle daughter cannot live without flowers and scents."
Mr. Carson tried to refuse his darling, but she coaxed him into acquiescence, saying she must have it, it was one of her necessaries. Life was not wort_aving without flowers.
"Then, Amy," said her brother, "try and be content with peonies an_andelions."
"Oh, you wretch! I don't call them flowers. Besides, you're every bit a_xtravagant. Who gave half-a-crown for a bunch of lilies of the valley a_ates', a month ago, and then would not let his poor little sister have them, though she went on her knees to beg them? Answer me that, Master Hal."
"Not on compulsion," replied her brother, smiling with his mouth, while hi_yes had an irritated expression, and he went first red, then pale, with vexe_mbarrassment.
"If you please, sir," said a servant, entering the room, "here's one of th_ill people wanting to see you; his name is Wilson, he says."
"I'll come to him directly; stay, tell him to come in here."
Amy danced off into the conservatory which opened out of the room, before th_aunt, pale, unwashed, unshaven weaver was ushered in. There he stood at th_oor sleeking his hair with old country habit, and every now and then stealin_ glance round at the splendour of the apartment.
"Well, Wilson, and what do you want to-day, man?"
"Please, sir, Davenport's ill of the fever, and I'm come to know if you've go_n Infirmary order for him?"
"Davenport—Davenport; who is the fellow? I don't know the name."
"He's worked in your factory better nor three years, sir."
"Very likely; I don't pretend to know the names of the men I employ; that _eave to the overlooker. So he's ill, eh?"
"Ay, sir, he's very bad; we want to get him in at the Fever Wards."
"I doubt if I've an in-patient's order to spare at present; but I'll give yo_n out-patient's and welcome."
So saying, he rose up, unlocked a drawer, pondered a minute, and then gav_ilson an out-patient's order.
Meanwhile, the younger Mr. Carson had ended his review, and began to listen t_hat was going on. He finished his breakfast, got up, and pulled fiv_hillings out of his pocket, which he gave to Wilson as he passed him, for the
"poor fellow." He went past quickly, and calling for his horse, mounted gaily, and rode away. He was anxious to be in time to have a look and a smile fro_ovely Mary Barton, as she went to Miss Simmonds'. But to-day he was to b_isappointed. Wilson left the house, not knowing whether to be pleased o_rieved. They had all spoken kindly to him, and who could tell if they migh_ot inquire into Davenport's case, and do something for him and his family.
Besides, the cook, who, when she had had time to think, after breakfast wa_ent in, had noticed his paleness, had had meat and bread ready to put in hi_and when he came out of the parlour; and a full stomach makes every one of u_ore hopeful. When he reached Berry Street, he had persuaded himself he bor_ood news, and felt almost elated in his heart. But it fell when he opened th_ellar-door, and saw Barton and the wife both bending over the sick man'_ouch with awestruck, saddened look.
"Come here," said Barton. "There's a change comed over him sin' yo left, i_here not?"
Wilson looked. The flesh was sunk, the features prominent, bony, and rigid.
The fearful clay-colour of death was over all. But the eyes were open an_ensitive, though the films of the grave were setting upon them.
"He wakened fra' his sleep, as yo left him in, and began to mutter and moan; but he soon went off again, and we never knew he were awake till he called hi_ife, but now she's here he's gotten nought to say to her."
Most probably, as they all felt, he could not speak, for his strength was fas_bbing. They stood round him still and silent; even the wife checked her sobs, though her heart was like to break. She held her child to her breast, to tr_nd keep him quiet. Their eyes were all fixed on the yet living one, whos_oments of life were passing so rapidly away. At length he brought (wit_erking convulsive effort) his two hands into the attitude of prayer. They sa_is lips move, and bent to catch the words, which came in gasps, and not i_ones.
"O Lord God! I thank thee, that the hard struggle of living is over."
"O Ben! Ben!" wailed forth his wife, "have you no thought for me? O Ben! Ben! do say one word to help me through life."
He could not speak again. The trump of the archangel would set his tongu_ree; but not a word more would it utter till then. Yet he heard, h_nderstood, and though sight failed, he moved his hand gropingly over th_overing. They knew what he meant, and guided it to her head, bowed and hidde_n her hands, when she had sunk in her woe. It rested there with a feebl_ressure of endearment. The face grew beautiful, as the soul neared God. _eace beyond understanding came over it. The hand was a heavy stiff weight o_he wife's head. No more grief or sorrow for him. They reverently laid out th_orpse—Wilson fetching his only spare shirt to array it in. The wife still la_idden in the clothes, in a stupor of agony.
There was a knock at the door, and Barton went to open it. It was Mary, wh_ad received a message from her father, through a neighbour, telling her wher_e was; and she had set out early to come and have a word with him before he_ay's work; but some errands she had to do for Miss Simmonds had detained he_ntil now.
"Come in, wench!" said her father. "Try if thou canst comfort yon poor, poo_oman, kneeling down there. God help her!"
Mary did not know what to say, or how to comfort; but she knelt down by her, and put her arm round her neck, and in a little while fell to crying hersel_o bitterly that the source of tears was opened by sympathy in the widow, an_er full heart was, for a time, relieved.
And Mary forgot all purposed meeting with her gay lover, Harry Carson; forgo_iss Simmonds' errands, and her anger, in the anxious desire to comfort th_oor lone woman. Never had her sweet face looked more angelic, never had he_entle voice seemed so musical as when she murmured her broken sentences o_omfort.
"Oh, don't cry so, dear Mrs. Davenport, pray don't take on so. Sure he's gon_here he'll never know care again. Yes, I know how lonesome you must feel; bu_hink of your children. Oh! we'll all help to earn food for 'em. Think ho_orry HE'D be, if he sees you fretting so. Don't cry so, please don't."
And she ended by crying herself as passionately as the poor widow.
It was agreed the town must bury him; he had paid to a burial club as long a_e could, but by a few weeks' omission, he had forfeited his claim to a sum o_oney now. Would Mrs. Davenport and the little child go home with Mary? Th_atter brightened up as she urged this plan; but no! where the poor, fondl_oved remains were, there would the mourner be; and all that they could do wa_o make her as comfortable as their funds would allow, and to beg a neighbou_o look in and say a word at times. So she was left alone with her dead, an_hey went to work that had work, and he who had none, took upon him th_rrangements for the funeral.
Mary had many a scolding from Miss Simmonds that day for her absence of mind.
To be sure Miss Simmonds was much put out by Mary's non-appearance in th_orning with certain bits of muslin, and shades of silk which were wanted t_omplete a dress to be worn that night; but it was true enough that Mary di_ot mind what she was about; she was too busy planning how her old black gown (her best when her mother died) might be sponged, and turned, and lengthene_nto something like decent mourning for the widow. And when she went home a_ight (though it was very late, as a sort of retribution for her morning'_egligence), she set to work at once, and was so busy and so glad over he_ask, that she had, every now and then, to check herself in singing merr_itties, which she felt little accorded with the sewing on which she wa_ngaged.
So when the funeral day came, Mrs. Davenport was neatly arrayed in black, _atisfaction to her poor heart in the midst of her sorrow. Barton and Wilso_oth accompanied her, as she led her two elder boys, and followed the coffin.
It was a simple walking funeral, with nothing to grate on the feelings of any; far more in accordance with its purpose, to my mind, than the gorgeou_earses, and nodding plumes, which form the grotesque funeral pomp o_espectable people. There was no "rattling the bones over the stones," of th_auper's funeral. Decently and quietly was he followed to the grave by on_etermined to endure her woe meekly for his sake. The only mark of pauperis_ttendant on the burial concerned the living and joyous, far more than th_ead, or the sorrowful. When they arrived in the churchyard, they halte_efore a raised and handsome tombstone; in reality a wooden mockery of ston_espectabilities which adorned the burial-ground. It was easily raised in _ery few minutes, and below was the grave in which pauper bodies were pile_ntil within a foot or two of the surface; when the soil was shovelled over, and stamped down, and the wooden cover went to do temporary duty over anothe_ole.[](footnotes.xml#footnote_19) But little recked they of this who no_ave up their dead.